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October 30, 2018 9:45 AM, EDT

Trucking U Introduces Students to Career Opportunities

Trucking U students at MCE College students, who participate in American Trucking Associations' Trucking U program, attend MCE to learn about career opportunities in the industry. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

AUSTIN, Texas — The trucking industry presents more career opportunities for young people than college and high school graduates may realize, university students said here during an educational program held at American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition.

“I had no idea that trucking was such a huge industry,” said Charley O’Loughlin, a Texas A&M student participating in ATA’s Trucking U program, which introduces college students in supply chain and logistics programs to the trucking industry. O’Loughlin was joined by students from Auburn University and Texas Tech for the program, during which industry executives discussed with participants topics including fleet operations, truck stops and driver recruiting.

Before attending MCE, O’Loughlin said her primary exposure to trucking was through a friend whose father is a truck driver. She knew he made a good living but never realized how far beyond the role of the driver the industry reaches, she said.

“Before I got here, I just didn’t really think much about it,” she said. “I knew they were on the road next to me, but I just didn’t think of it.”

While O’Loughlin was grateful to learn more about the industry, other students are not as open-minded, noted Brittney Martin, a fellow Texas A&M student whose family owns a service company in the state that operates three fleets.

Brittney Martin (left) and Charley O'Loughlin of Texas A&M at MCE.

Charley O'Loughlin (left) and Brittney Martin of Texas A&M at MCE. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

“People don’t think it’s sexy to be in the trucking industry,” she said, noting that only five A&M students of the many invited chose to attend MCE. “Especially in supply chain [programs], it’s probably at the bottom of the list of where they see themselves.”

One of Martin and O’Loughlin’s professors assigns some blame for this to sentiments among certain of his academic colleagues.

“Some faculty are biased against trucking — they think of it is a low-cost industry and there are not good opportunities for our students,” said Greg Heim, who teaches an information technology and logistics class that addresses topics such as electronic logging devices and transportation management systems. “[Students] probably come in here biased; their eyes are colored by those professors who say, ‘Look, go into consulting or go into procurement,’ ” he said.

One solution, Heim said, is better communication between academia and the industry. “Many of us don’t know what the real opportunities are in the trucking and transportation space,” he said.

All the more reason for students to attend events such as MCE, Texas Tech student Adrian Fabela said.

Auburn students talk to media at MCE

William McLaughlin (left) and Jacob Bauch of Auburn University talk with media at MCE. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

“Things like this open our eyes to technologies that are available in the truck,” he said, noting that it “looked like an airplane cockpit” in one truck cab he sat in at the show.

“There is not a lot of awareness,” Fabela added. “Not a lot of people are coming out of high school or college saying they want to work in the trucking industry. I feel like that can definitely be changed, because it is a growing industry, and it’s never going to go away.”

Some of those opportunities are behind the wheel, noted Andrew Burton, also from Texas Tech. At MCE, he learned a lot about the issue of permitting commercial drivers younger than 21 to drive interstate and believes it could be a good opportunity for the right candidates.

“It’s not for everybody, but then not everybody is going to show up and want to do it,” he said. “Those who show up to get their CDL will be willing to do it enough that they will exercise good judgment.”

Education about automated and driver-assist technologies also could lure young people to the industry, said Texas Tech student Ricardo Melendez, whose family owns a small trucking company in Fort Worth.

Students Ricardo Melendez, Adrian Fabela and Andrew Burton at MCE

Texas Tech students Ricardo Melendez, Adrian Fabela and Andrew Burton at MCE. (Joe Howard/Transport Topics)

“People are more comfortable when it comes to driving these trucks,” he said. “Young people that are coming into the industry see that it’s an automatic truck, and they see that it has all these safety features and electronics in it that will keep you and everybody else safe,” he said.

Raising awareness of these aspects of the industry is key to getting students engaged, said Ladonna Thornton, a logistics professor from Auburn.

“The first thing they think is the stereotypical image of what a trucker is,” she said. “There are so many opportunities in technology, their mind has been completely opened to what they can do — what’s possible. They see how dynamic — and how much impact — trucking has.”

“Trucking and supply chain go hand in hand,” Auburn student Jacob Bauch added. “We are here trying to learn if trucking is right for us. There are a lot of opportunities here.”